While working as an independent consultant has many perks, not being a permanent employee in a business can make it less straight-forward to grow your own career and expertise. If you follow these 5 tips, however, you can create a foundation on which to build on with hard work and dedication.
Working as an independent consultant has many perks. It gives you control and flexibility regarding the type of projects you are engaged on, the clients you work with and where you are located, plus independent consultants generally get more pay in their pockets. These are just a few of the reasons why we see a growing trend towards this way of working, with independent professionals now making up 85% of consulting companies in the Netherlands*, and a fifth of the management consulting work in the UK going to independents**.
At the same time, not being a permanent employee in a business can make it less straight-forward to grow your own career and expertise. You do not have a formal career path or have formal training arranged for you, or a set of colleagues with whom to exchange knowledge about new developments in your industry, and it can be hard to develop expertise to be able to take on more responsibility in new projects.
Just because it is less straight-forward does not mean it is impossible to grow as an independent consultant, it is very much so. Here are 5 practical tips that anyone can apply to become a better consultant earning more money, receiving more responsibility, and being staffed on more interesting projects.
Find a mentor
Having a mentor can be beneficial in many ways, as it is a person that can give you orientation and guidelines on how to structure your work and business. A mentor can provide you with tips for your career path and what projects to take on, and is a person who you can turn to with questions regarding day rates, clients, and other aspects. Many experts say that having a mentor is the single biggest contributor to being successful and growing your career. Generally, finding one should not be particularly difficult. Ideally use a former manager or colleague who you already have a good relationship and connection with. Alternatively using tools like LinkedIn or alumni networks from former companies or universities can be a great way to reach out to a potential mentor.
Invest time in your own learning and development
On-the-job experience is invaluable, but gaining additional expertise and deepening your knowledge in your focus area through training and other methods can only be beneficial, for obvious reasons. It can give you the extra knowledge required to sell yourself onto projects and roles you wouldn’t otherwise have the experience for. While you do not have formal corporate training mechanisms as an independent consultant, there is a wide variety of online training opportunities out there, such as coursera, udacity, or udemy, with many courses being offered for free or only a small fee.
Develop and share knowledge
As a consultant the client is paying for your experience and knowledge. Developing and sharing knowledge is an important way of raising your personal profile and being regarded within your focus area and by clients as an expert. This should translate to more demand for your services and a premium for the fees that you can charge. Knowledge collateral that you develop may be a white paper on a particular topic, a point of view on an industry trend or a methodology for how to carry out a particular type of work. Even if this isn’t widely shared, the work you put into developing this collateral helps you reflect on your experience and contemplate lessons learned, which will make you a better consultant.
Use each role as a springboard to the next
Even in permanent employment individuals are generally not guaranteed a promotion or more responsibility, one has to fight for it. This is where working as an independent consultant or as a permanent employee doesn’t really differ too much. You have a big responsibility and say in how you shape each role you are engaged in. This is about a relentless focus on quality – doing the best you can at everything you do, about understanding the brief – so you are focusing on what matters to your client, about understanding who counts within the client – so you are pleasing the right stakeholders, and about pro-actively asking for more responsibility. There are generally not enough good people around, so if you are seen as one of those good people you will be given more responsibility which is probably the biggest enabler for developing your career.
Follow industry trends closely
Without a close-knit network of colleagues, it can be hard to stay up-to-date with regard to new developments in your industry. However, doing so is incredibly important to stay current and ahead of others, and to maintain a position to be able to advise clients. Particularly in the fast-moving digital space the pace of change is so high there is a risk of being left behind, but you should also be confident that your core consulting skills are generally a great foundation and allow you to quickly adapt. There are plenty of sources of information and news including specialist websites, news sites like Medium and of course LinkedIn. It is also a good idea to set up Google Alerts on topics or companies you want to keep up-to-date on.
Following these tips will not automatically make you a better independent consultant, but they can help you create a foundation on which to build on with hard work and dedication.
Found these tips interesting, but difficult to act upon? Riverflex can facilitate many of the aspects mentioned. By joining our circle of independent consultants you will have access to a premium group of professionals with opportunities for knowledge and collateral sharing, training discounts, news updates and personal development paths. Get in touch at www.riverflex.com to find out more.